An Evening on The Causeway
Enigmatic Kangaroo Lake
To be honest, I don't fish Kangaroo Lake much, despite the fact that the lake is a very short distance from my house, boasts a very serviceable boat launch and, of course, has the convenience of fishing from the dry land of the County Highway E causeway that crosses the north end of the lake. Sure, there are fish in The 'Roo, some nice ones. I have caught several nice smallmouth, walleyes and northerns over the years, although most of the pike were your classic "hammer-handles". However, most of the times I fish Kangaroo Lake I catch nothing. With the opportunity to fish for large brown trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon, not to mention the world-class smallmouth bass fishing just a short drive away, it is difficult to justify spending time on a lake with such a limited fishery. Lots of other people fish the lake. On any sunny summer afternoon you can see anglers lined up along the causeway fishing on either side of the road. Mostly they are younger anglers accompanied by a parent or grandparent throwing big red and white plastic bobbers from which a hook and worm is attached. Expectations start high, but for the occasional tiny perch or bluegill, typically not many fish are actually caught. Boat traffic can also be high on the lake in the summer, including anglers. I have talked to guys who try to convince me that Kangaroo Lake is a "really good fishing lake" and I agree. It's just not a very good "catching lake". More often than not upon further interrogation I discovery that these guys have not fished the lake for years and what they are remembering is a distant outing when they were kids with their dad and they think they recall catching some big bass. To a little kid, all bass are big. Not that Kangaroo does not have potential to be a good fishing lake. It does. The impediments are the high boat traffic, shoreline deterioration and lack of effective management. That should improve in the future. The Kangaroo Lake Association has embarked on a concerted effort to improve shoreline habitat. They are sinking trees and brush along the shore, called "fish sticks", to provide cover for young fish and increase the number of catchable fish in the lake. These efforts should improve the quality of fishing in Kangaroo Lake, but I personally have not seen it yet. I will still spend most of my fishing time on the "big water".
That all said, there are certain times of the year that I find myself making my way down to the causeway to take a few casts as I did one evening a couple of weeks ago. After supper I drove down to The 'Roo and parked my truck off the shoulder of County E on the east end of the causeway. I grabbed a spinning rod and a small, clear plastic tackle box from the back and walked along the road to the lake. I sent a gold Countdown Rapala out into the cascade of water spewing from the culvert running under the road connecting the waters of the shallow north end of the lake to the main body to the south. Over my right shoulder the sun was slowly moving behind fractured clouds toward the western horizon. The sky was beginning to transform from its daytime azure blue to the reds and oranges of early evening. There was no wind and the lake was a mirror. The sun was perfectly reflected in the water of a lake surface festooned with the remnants of last year's bull rush stalks.
I took a second cast, slowly retrieving the lure in an attempt to emulate the indigenous baitfish. Wham! Much to my surprise, even shock, a fish had hit my lure hard and the rod developed a healthy bend. I soon realized that I was doing battle with a very large smallmouth bass. I was unprepared for this. I did not expect catch to anything. Fortunately just at that moment a fellow angler was making his way behind me for a night of fishing. And he had a net. After a dogged fight replete with leaps and lunges by the frantic fish, my new fishing buddy slipped his net under a fat 18" smallie. Nice fish. I further imposed on my savior to take a picture and then released the fish back into the waters of the lake. She beat a fast retreat. After thanking my fellow fisherman (I never did learn his name) we compared notes on our experiences fishing the causeway. His was much the same as mine. A few fish caught, now and then a nice one, but more often just a pleasant evening's stroll. As he headed to another fishing location near the center of the causeway, I resumed my casting. A dozen casts later I had another strike and the rod was pumping for a second time. It was another nice smallmouth, perhaps a bit bigger than the last. I slowly maneuvered the fish closer to the rocky lake edge. My "net-man" was too far away to provide any timely assistance so I attempted to flop the slithering fish up on the rocks. Nope. The fish threw the hook and triumphantly made its way to deeper water to recover. I call this a "quick release". A win-win for the fish and me. I got to enjoy the thrill of the strike and fight. The fish ultimately would be released anyway. At any rate I had battled two nice fish within fifteen minutes of arriving at the causeway. This could be a good outing. My enthusiasm was running high and my expectations soaring. It took about fifteen minutes for my expectations to be realized. Another fish on! But this one felt different, not the frantic rush of a smallmouth, but more of the steady, determined pull of maybe a walleye. It would not be the first walleye I have caught in Kangaroo, but they are pretty infrequent, at least for me. As the fish came into view under the clear water's surface, sure enough, I had hooked into a beauty. This was a keeper, even with the 18" size limit on the lake. I was going to have to land this fish sans landing net. No problem, I had done that plenty of times. I managed to work the walleye into the rocks on the shore and as it was flopping in the shallow water I pounced on the fish and triumphantly held up a 24" marble eye. I dug an old metal stringer out of my wader bag in the truck, attached one end to the fish and the other end to a rock at the water edge and went back to fishing. This was fun! Alas, another half hour of casting produced no more action. That was fine with me as I had a good night.
The sun was gone and the night was consuming the lake. As I stood at the water's edge, car headlights occasionally passing a few feet behind me, I took my last few casts. Absorbing the quiet coolness of the evening, I detected a darting motion in the periphery of my vision. I turned my head to catch the sight of a dark-furred weasel scampering across County E beginning its nocturnal foray for food. A short distance away, a mating pair of Canada geese was honking their disapproval of my presence on their turf. I guess I had over-stayed my welcome. Time to go home and watch the Brewer game. Gathering up the single walleye on the stringer, I made my way through the darkness to a waiting truck. Fortunately, my eyes were fixed on the ground as I walked, watching my steps. This allowed me to avoid stepping on the source of the geese's consternation. There, snuggled among a cluster of rocks was a loosely constructed mass of dried grass with two large goose eggs nestled side by side in the center. I nimbly sidestepped the nest and left the area and the parents in peace.
I returned to the causeway three more times since that evening. Each evening was pleasant and a nice way to spend some time. I casted the same area with the same lure. I never got another fish; not even a strike. This, of course, confirmed my bias of Kangaroo Lake as a fishing destination. That is what is so frustrating and confusing about Kangaroo Lake. Just when you think The 'Roo is worth your time and effort to fish, it turns its back on you and taunts your efforts. I will still be spending the lion’s share of my available fishing time on the vast and productive waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Nevertheless, I will again, some cool summer evening, make my way back to the causeway along County E. You see there are lots of good reasons for going fishing besides catching fish.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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